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Heath Ledger had his finger on the trigger for a long and successful career in Hollywood when he accidentally overdosed in 2008, leaving fans, friends and family to imagine what might have been.
“The world’s your limit with someone of this nature,” observed celebrity photographer Ben Watts, who photographed the Australian actor multiple times before his death at 28. “And what he accomplished was incredible.”
Now, 14 years after the “Brokeback Mountain” star’s death, Watts is releasing never-before-seen photos of Ledger as limited-edition non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. “This body of work is one of my most favorite,” said Watts.
It’s the lensman’s first foray into cryptographic assets. “I’m late to this game,” he admitted.
Watts, 55, of Chelsea, met Ledger at a New York restaurant through his sister, actress Naomi Watts, who dated the actor for two years after they met on the set of the 2003 film “Ned Kelly.”
For a 2004 assignment for Interview magazine, Watts took Ledger, a skateboarding aficionado, to the Los Angeles River, which he called “such a great day.”
“We were driving up and down freeboarding on a skateboard. I was in the back of it, towing him,” he explained. “In some of the shots, you can see I have the tow rope and he’s holding onto it. He loved it.”
The London-born, Australia-raised Watts, who moved to New York in 1995, also did publicity shots for “Ned Kelly,” including one where Ledger holds his fingers like a gun pointing at his head.
“I have not really given it much thought,” Watts said of the eerie snap. “I kind of do that myself sometimes when I feel completely stressed or bothered.”
Two puppies that Ledger and Naomi Watts adopted, Ned and Bob, found their way into another photo that’s among the 15 images being sold on MakersPlace, an NFT marketplace, starting Sept. 14.
Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Heath Ledger Foundation, which was established after “A Knight’s Tale” star’s death to provide scholarships to emerging Australian actors.
Watts also noted that the actor, who was posthumously awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of The Joker in “The Dark Knight,” was very much engaged in the photography process.
“I do a lot of portraiture of celebrities,” he said. “And it’s not always their favorite thing.”